Corpsing: The Actor’s Guide To Giggles

Delicious, wonderful, wee-inducing giggles. Now for those of you who do not practice Fancy Dress for a living, i.e. acting, you may be wondering what indeed corpsing is. And no, before you ask, it is not a pre-show ritual we actors partake in with various dead bodies… although sometimes it has come close. It is in fact merely hi-jinks.

Corpsing; to corpse: a British theatrical slang term used to describe when an actor unintentionally breaks character during a scene by laughing or by causing another cast member to laugh.

Thank you, Wikipedia. It is in simpler terms: joking around on stage.

This is not to detract from the seriousness of conveying the playwright’s words accurately or their intentions truthfully; it is just a fact that after a six-month stint doing the same show every night, an actor needs an outlet for his or her cheeky side that isn’t either the pub or another actor. (Not to confirm or deny the stereotype, but let’s face it, we are an incestuous bunch).

Now, I have been known to be a bit of a corpser, both in the attack and in the defence. The sight of another actor trying to keep their facial muscles under control is almost as delectable as trying to suppress your own unstoppable mirth when you are on the receiving end. And so I have decided that it is my duty (I know, how British of me) to give you a guide, a brief course if you will, on how to create the perfect corpse.

STEP ONE- The Location
To ensure maximum humiliation and hilarity, the prime location for a corpse attack is on stage, in a West End or Broadway theatre with the audience at its optimum capacity. There is no escape on the stage, no place to hide and certainly no turning back.

One could partake in corpsing on a film set, but the sneaky editors have ways and means of eradicating the evidence. Simply watch the outtakes on Bridesmaids to bear witness to this!

STEP TWO- The Victim
The victim must have a weak giggle threshold, but ideally not a weak bladder. I have seen actresses actually wee themselves on stage from corpsing (they shall remain nameless for fear for my life, although they could probably make good money from incontinence pad sponsorship) and on occasion I have been the cause.

WARNING: Do not choose an older actor as your victim, they will have had years of experience in battle against ‘the corpse’ and will either have a rigid poker face defence or worse, a corpse retaliation that will leave you in stitches whilst they carry on – professionally – with the show.

A younger actor, fresh out of drama school would make a prime target. These fledglings have not yet honed their defence system and will innocently fall into fits of giggles of their own volition with little encouragement needed.

Be the lion. Pick on the young and weak.

STEP THREE- The Weapon
Your choice of weapon is of paramount importance in the advance of a corpse attack. In the words of Hamlet, “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” Be wise in your choice.

The options:

  • Props: There are many of these lethal weapons to hand, usually to be located in the backstage area or in the dressing rooms.

Example: I may or may not have stood in the wings of a London theatre in full view of the actors on stage with my pants pulled down and a prop traffic cone placed precariously on my head.

  • Makeup and Wigs: A great tip is to befriend the makeup artists, they love a bit of mischief and will be happy to aid you in your plot.

Example: I may or may not have blacked out all my teeth for an end of show dance, secretly baring my teeth to my fellow actors whenever I had the chance.

  • Ad-libbing: This is when an actor takes poetic licence with his or her lines, either making them up on the spot or switching them around. This is a technique often used to cover up when an actor has dried and forgotten their lines. It is the least subtle of all the weaponry when used in the corpse attack as the audience will ordinarily spot it a mile off.

Example: A company manager, who shall remain nameless, once dared our cast of Romeo and Juliet to see how many Lion King references we could fit in throughout the entire play. Needless to say, we went to the elephant graveyard and excelled with flying colours.

  • Bodily functions: This speaks for itself

Example: I may or may not have deliberately sidled up to another actress and broken wind.

STEP FOUR- The Evidence
Always, always, always get rid of the evidence. Whether it be the twinkle in your eye or the smirk on your lips, hide it. The beauty of the corpse is to appear the innocent party, a mere bystander to the victim’s hysterics.

Most important of all, dispose of any tangible, physical evidence of the prank; there is nothing worse than being caught red-handed.

Example: I was once on the corpse attack and ingeniously (definitely not immaturely) drew a beautifully detailed phallic diagram on a letter to be given to another actor mid-scene, this letter fell into the wrong hands and instead of ensuing hilarity it left me red-faced and slightly shamed. 

So be warned!

STEP FIVE- Go Forth!
Corpsing is a delicate skill, not to be over-egged or under-estimated. If you get the right balance it can create magical, mischievous mayhem on stage, but get it wrong and the joke is on YOU.

Laughter is good for the body, mind and soul, so tread carefully in your endeavors Young Padawans and may the corpse be with you!*

*The writer promises never to make an inappropriate Star Wars reference again… Until next time…

You can read more from Laura Darrall on her blog or follow her on Twitter: @lauradarrall

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